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Rain helps some crops

September 07, 1999|By SCOTT BUTKI

Rainstorms this holiday weekend essentially stopped a 14-month regional dry spell and effectively ends the drought for most of the local agricultural industry, Washington County Agricultural Extension Agent Donald Schwartz said Monday.

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Not all agricultural experts agreed with Schwartz's rosy assessment and even he hastened to point out that the more than 2 inches of rain that fell is probably not enough to make up the rain deficit in the wells and groundwater supply for the region.

While the rain was nice and of the right quantity, it came too late to help this year's soy and corn crops, said Gerald Ditto, president of the Washington County Farm Bureau.

"If we had this a month ago it would have been a world of difference," Ditto said.

But coming when it did, "it ain't going to be a lifesaver for them," he said. "The drought is not over."

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The region received two to three inches of rain this weekend, according to National Weather Service forecasters. More rain is expected today.

The rain was not enough to end the drought, said Jim Weismueller, a National Weather Service forecaster.

"It does not end it all together. But it eases the situation. It replenishes surface moisture and brings the stream and river levels up. It will take longer to erase the deficit though. It will take longer to replenish the groundwater," he said.

If the region does not get any more water in the next few weeks the situation could easily become critical again, he said.The Waynesboro, Pa., area received 1.56 inches of rain between Saturday night and Monday evening, according to Waynesboro weather observer Todd Toth.

However, it's still more than 3 inches low on precipitation, Toth said.

"As far as the drought, we need a few more of these," he said. "We need another tropical storm."

Normal annual precipitation for the Waynesboro area is 40.9 inches, Toth said.

The area should have 31 inches of precipitation by the end of September, he said. It has received only 25.87 inches.

While the rain is coming late in the season for some crops, it still spells good news for many farmers, Schwartz said.

There are still about eight weeks left in the growing seasons for grass, small grain and alfalfa, Schwartz said.

The rain will also help people growing soy beans and corn, he added.

This weekend's rainfall provided additional feed and forage for farmers who have been using stored hay since June, he said.

While the wells probably need more rain, he said that as long as there is more rain in the region by Christmas this weekend's storms ends the drought for agriculture.

Certainly, the rain is good news, said Mike Sienkiewicz of Charles Town, W.Va., an agent at the U.S. Agriculture Department's service center in Ranson, W.Va. It will revitalize the pastures and help the winter crops, he said.

However, it's too late to help the corn and hay crops from this year, he said.

The storms from Hurricane Dennis, which was downgraded Sunday to a tropical depression, came less than a week after Gov. Parris Glendening lifted drought-related mandatory water restrictions he had imposed on Aug. 4, including prohibitions against washing cars.

Glendening ended the restrictions Wednesday, saying that there had been enough rain and water conservation to warrant removing the rules. Some felt he should have waited until more rain had fallen before making that decision.

Greg Keefer, a Hagerstown weather observer, said Hagerstown received .45 inches on Saturday and .62 on Sunday. Another .69 of an inch fell on Monday.

But according to Jim Decarufel of the National Weather Service, parts of Washington County received almost a full inch of rain on Sunday.

Smithsburg reported .96 inches and Sharpsburg received .92 inches on Sunday, Decarufel said. He did not have numbers for Hagerstown or the towns on Saturday. The amount received varied around the region, from .6 in Shepherdstown, W.V. to 2 inches in Thurmont.

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